Victoria and I decided that we wanted to go on a Saturday adventure, so we planned a mini-excursion to visit Havuts Tar Monastery. It was on my list of places to go because I read that the view is great and it’s worth a visit even though it’s in ruins. The location was also very convenient… It’s just a short hike away from the town of Garni, and the marshrutka ride from Yerevan to Garni takes less than an hour.

Azat River! Along our walk to the reserve from Garni

I wasn’t so sure about the logistics of hiking there because it’s located inside of Khosrov Forest State Reserve. It’s one of the oldest protected areas in the world, supposedly established by King Khosrov in the 330s. I think he just wanted something to name after himself. It was re-established in its current form in 1958. There are four different landscapes within the park, ranging from desert to alpine meadow, and a ton of different plant and animal species. There are 41 mammal species!

The Khosrov website makes it seem like coordinating a visit to the park is a huge pain. It says that you have to hire a guide and get a permit if you want to hike in the park, and it’s a bit expensive. In all of the reviews I read about Havuts Tar, no one said anything about a guide. Who the heck knows which one is right? The best way to figure anything out is to just show up, so that’s what we planned. We figured we would go, try to visit, and be prepared for a last-minute change of plans if we weren’t allowed into the park.

You can see a little speck on top of the mountain in the background, right side… that’s Amenaprkich Church

Our marshrutka dropped us in the center of Garni, and from there, we started walking in the general direction of the park. Oh yeah, we also weren’t exactly sure about how to get there… but hey, it’s all part of the adventure, right? It took a few near-wrong turns and some helpful directions from locals, but we eventually found what looked like a trail and started hiking. Thank goodness for GPS because otherwise, who knows where we would have ended up? It seemed for a while like we weren’t going to encounter anyone… until we turned a corner and saw a huge gate with a Khosrov seal on it. Okay, showtime. Worst case, we’d get turned away and have to find something else to do. No big deal.

There was a park ranger sitting at the gate, and we said hello and told him that we wanted to see Havuts Tar. (We had practiced saying this in Armenian on the walk so that we would sound like we knew what we were talking about.) He didn’t seem thrown off by our presence or our request and asked where we were from. We said Yerevan, and he told us that it’s 1000 dram to hike there if you’re from Yerevan and 2000 dram if you’re a foreigner, so lucky for us that we’re not foreigners because we get a better price. I think he winked at us when he said that, but I have no idea why because we definitely were passing as locals.

We went into the little visitor’s center to pay, and they had a sign with pricing for all of the different sites within the park. To me, that seems to mean you don’t need a guide… Oh, who knows. Maybe it’s like some local secret that you can just walk in, but they try to trick the internet users into getting a guide? Anyway, I was surprised by how nice the visitor’s center was. They had posters about the different sites in the park, information about environmental preservation, a creepily impressive beetle collection, and best of all, a bathroom.

Khatchkar along the path to the monastery

Victoria and I paid our 1000 dram each and headed up the trail to the monastery. The hike wasn’t bad at all. There were some steep parts, but we were following a dirt car road, making it impossible to get lost. There were even a few shade trees along the way! That’s a rare sight on a hike here.

Imagine if it wasn’t all brown… I guess we could have picked a better time of year (aka spring). Amenaprkich Church is up on the hill, and in the low area to the right, you can see the grey walls of the monastic complex.
The path. Not much room for wrong turns!
Getting closer…
View of the monastery complex from the hiking trail

Havuts Tar Monastic Complex was built between the 11th and 13th centuries, so in Armenia time, it’s new! There was an earthquake in 1679 that destroyed much of the complex, and after that, it was basically abandoned, aside from some minor restoration efforts in the 18th and 20th centuries. There’s another church there as well, Amenaprkich Church, which is just outside of the walled complex and was originally built in the 10th century.

I so wish that I could have seen it in all of its glory. Just imagine! That building on the right is a church within the complex, and there are other auxiliary buildings along the perimeter walls (you can just see the edge of one on the left side of the picture).

The ruins were a pleasant surprise. Everything I read basically said that the monastery is unimpressive, but the view makes the trip worth it. I completely disagree with the first statement. It was beautiful!! The ruins were way more extensive than I expected. There were fortified walls, hidden underground rooms, and some of the best stone reliefs I’ve seen in Armenia. As we wandered around, Victoria and I couldn’t help but express our disbelief at the fact that anyone would say that the monastery was anything less than awesome.

One of the church ruins with lettering on the wall that probably didn’t take one eternity to carve
Me on a relatively stable wall…
Looking out at the ruins from the wall. The ruins of the two churches inside the complex are in the foreground, and Amenaprkich Church is on the hill in the background.
I love these khatchkars. Look at how intricate! And I also love how they integrated different decorative stones into the walls. It gives them a lot of personality.
EVERYTHING is decorated
Entrance to one of the monastery complex churches. I also love how they used two different colors of tuff stone to create accents.
That view! And also I really like that wall. I think it’s pretty.
I’m sure this isn’t going to fall anytime soon… but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t sprint under it just in case
It’s not an adventure without some pictures of me in random holes. These little vaulted rooms are up against the perimeter walls, possibly used as guest chambers for the monastery.
Some of the carvings were the most intricate I’ve seen
This looks like an alien on a space horse capturing another alien, but the captured alien is smiling because he knows that there are twenty of his alien soldier friends on their way to save him.

The view certainly wasn’t anything to complain about either. It overlooks the Azat River Valley, the same one that runs behind Garni Temple, and the whole thing is pretty spectacular. From Amenaprkich, you can see Garni Temple too! We found a shady spot to eat our snacks (some bread, cheese, and cookies, courtesy of Victoria), chatted, and enjoyed the scenery.

Me and Victoria! You can kind of see Garni Temple in the background, but it’s not super easy. Maybe about 1/3 of the way into the picture from the right, there’s a little grey box on top of one of the ridges sticking out into the gorge. That’s the temple.
Amenaprkich Church is the one with the orange/black tuff checkerboard front. On the right side, there’s another church that was added later, but as you can see, it’s mostly collapsed as well.
The last remaining arch inside the church. Again, I have no idea how this is still intact. And you can see part of the ring where the dome would have been.
This room is underground… they think it used to be the monastery’s manuscript library

It’s always nice when a day turns out even better than you expect. I was worried that we wouldn’t even be able to enter the park and I would have dragged Victoria out there for no reason. Far from that, we had a great time! Havuts Tar is pretty close to the top of my list of favorite places to visit in Armenia, along with Dilijan, Levon’s Divine Underground, and Smbataberd. I think my list of favorite places is slightly more obscure than most people’s…

I like this wall.

Related Posts – My Favorite Places in Armenia

Dilijan National Park – go for a hike in one of Armenia’s national parks! Or, for the autumn version, go here

Levon’s Divine Underground – explore a potato cellar turned underground wonderland (just as weird and wonderful as it sounds)

Smbataberd Fortress – soak in the breathtaking views from Smbataberd Fortress

Sergei Parajanov Museum – visit my favorite museum in all of Armenia

Erebuni Fortress – poke around the ruins of the fortress at the heart of ancient Yerevan